Another week bites the dust in the October Horror Movie Challenge, bolstered by a trip to Chicago for the 10th annual Music Box of Horrors at the historic Music Box Theater. Several more views under the belt and I’m now a handful of films away from meeting the minimum challenge requirements. Read on!
Someone’s Watching Me! (1978, dir. John Carpenter [TV]; first time view) – Early John Carpenter made-for-TV film starring Lauren Hutton as a television director increasingly terrorized and harassed by a mysterious stalker. Taking several cues from Hitchcock, primarily Rear Window, this is a tight but simply adequate thriller. Even though his trademark sparse style is on display here, overall this feels like lesser Carpenter.
Boris Karloff Double (Triple?) Feature
The Black Room (1935, dir. Roy William Neill; first time view) – It’s Karloff playing against Karloff in this familiar tale of twin brothers — one good, one evil — bound by a prophecy stating that the younger will kill the older in the infamous Black Room of their ancestral home. I’m a sucker for films where the lead actor plays against themselves, like The Parent Trap and Dead Ringers, so this was just catnip. The ending is telegraphed early on, but is still darkly satisfying.
The Man They Could Not Hang (1939, dir. Nick Grinde; first time view) – Karloff’s back, back again, this time as a scientist who has developed a method to revive a dead person’s heartbeat. When Dr. Savaard’s first major test of his theory goes awry due to outside interference, he is sent to jail and hung for murder, but he doesn’t stay dead for long. The film then shifts into a “And Then There Were None”-style situation where Savaard exacts his revenge. Unfortunately, the revenge part of The Man They Could Not Hang feels too short to have much impact, although it teases some deliciously chilling murders. Still, it’s worth a watch.
Creatures and Ghosts and Revenants and the Women Who Love Them
Queen Kong (1976, dir. Frank Agrama; first time view) – Forgive my memory on this, because I watched Queen Kong while drinking and playing jenga, but I think this was more or less a gender-swapped version of King Kong except a musical comedy. Not really horror, but there are some great gags and a lot of general silliness and a very catchy theme song.
Lady In White (1988, dir. Frank LaLoggia; first time view) – A horror author returns home and recalls his childhood, in which he discovered and solved a ghostly mystery about a local legend, the Lady in White. This film moves in a similar tradition as works like Stand By Me or Something Wicked This Way Comes, but without the same sort of gauzy, misty longing for times gone by. LaLoggia builds the world and people of Lady In White so effortlessly, it hardly ever feels unnatural for a ghost child to interact with a strange little boy. The cast here is also outstanding, particularly Angelo Bertolini as Papa Charlie, who gets the film’s best line: “SONOMABEETCH.”
Tombs of the Blind Dead (1971, dir. Armando de Ossorio; first time view) – A woman on vacation stays the night in an abandoned monastery; unbeknownst to her, it’s inhabited by an undead, blind group of Knights Templar. Later, her boyfriend and best friend return to the site to find out what happened, and they’re in for their own night of horror. The effects here are fairly simple, but quite eerie — a desiccated creeping hand here, a group of Templars riding their undead horses across a field there. Heavier on atmosphere than coherent story, but when has that ever stopped a good horror film?
A Music Box of Horrors – The Marathon Session
Cat People (1942, dir. Jacques Tourneur; repeat view) – Classic Val Lewton-produced film about a young Serbian woman who believes she is cursed to transform into a panther whenever she is sexually aroused. Rich in story while sparse in design (the film’s budget was less than $150,000), this is a must-see.
The Curse of the Werewolf (1961, dir. Terence Fisher; repeat view) – Hammer Studios’ only foray into the werewolf subgenre is also one of their best films. Maybe they didn’t need to make any more werewolf movies, since this one knocks it out of the park. Curse has a fantastic mythology that builds on horror both human and supernatural, offering a unique origin for the titular wolf, played by sexy young Oliver Reed.
The Borrower (1991, dir. John McNaughton; first time view) – An alien is banished to Earth as punishment and thus goes on a murder spree, taking the heads of those he kills for his own and baffling the cops who are on his trail. The Borrower is as confused as the police are, never quite bringing its disparate elements together into a cohesive package.
Dead Snow: Red vs. Dead (2014, dir. Tommy Wirkola; first time view) – Picking up right where the first film left off, Martin (Vegar Hoel) enlists the Zombie Squad, a group of zombie horror film buffs / neo-survivalists from the US, to take up arms — literally! — against head Nazi zombie Herzog (Orjan Gamst). Too half-baked to feel like anything less than pale in comparison to the first, which was lightning in a bottle. You’d be better off just watching the original.
Shakma (1990, dir. Tom Logan; first time view) – What happens when a group of research scientists organize a late-night LARP session run by Roddy McDowall in a lab that’s stalked by a genetically-enhanced baboon on a serious ‘roid rage? SHAKMA! Unfortunately, the synopsis is more enjoyable than the final product on screen. Oh well. SHAKMA!
Nightmare, a.k.a. Nightmare in a Damaged Brain (1981, dir. Romano Scavolini; first time view) – Notorious sleazy shocker about a released mental patient who kills his way back home. Notable for some nasty special effects — allegedly supervised by Tom Savini — but overall incoherent and messy, with a cheap trick ending you can see coming a mile away.
A Night at The (William) Castle
The Old Dark House (1963, dir. William Castle; first time view) – Tom Poston spends a night at his friend’s estate and discovers that the family residing there is all off-kilter, and soon, they’ll be all-dead. Worth seeing once, but stick to the original James Whale version for any repeat viewings. And have a potato!
Mr. Sardonicus (1961; dir. William Castle; first time view) – A brilliant doctor is called by a former lover to help cure her husband of a terrible malady: his face has been frozen in a rictus grin, a result of robbing his father’s grave for a winning lottery ticket and seeing the rotting remains therein. This is probably the best of Castle’s films, or at least the most mature, even while it breaks in the last few minutes to deliver a “punishment poll,” in which Castle himself giddily asks the audience to vote on the title character’s fate. Castle wisely builds to the big reveal of the Baron’s face, which is clearly modeled on Gwynplaine, Conrad Veidt’s character in The Man Who Laughs (1928).
25 total films watched